India captain Sunil Chhetri turned 30 today and Sportskeeda celebrates the occasion by listing 30 facts about the star striker.
1. Sunil was born to Kharga and Sushila Chettri in Secundarabad on August 3 1984. Being the son of an army officer, as a kid Sunil had to move to different cities often but he refers to New Delhi as his hometown.
2. He studied at Bahai School in Gangtok, Bethany’s in Darjeeling, Loyola School in Kolkata, and Army Public School, Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi.
3. Chhetri took admission at Ashutosh College in Kolkata, but gave up studies when he was in Class 12 after getting a chance to represent India at the Asian School Championships in Malaysia in October 2001.
4. He has played for ten different clubs so far with the first being Delhi-based City Club, whom he joined as a 17-year-old. He has also represented Delhi in the Santosh Trophy.
5. His first big move came in 2002, when he joined Mohun Bagan, spending three seasons there. It was a great learning experience, as he was playing in front of big crowds and in high pressure matches as a teenager.
6. Chhetri played for various age group teams of India, including the U-20 side at the SAF Games in 2004, but his first senior international goal came in a tour of Pakistan in 2005.
7. Although his spell at Mohun Bagan was a great experience for Chhetri, it was at JCT under Sukhwinder Singh that he established himself as one of the best strikers in the country. He joined the Punjab-based club in 2005 and spent three memorable years there.
8. There were many important performances at JCT including his display against Brazilian side Sao Paulo in the Super Soccer Series in 2007. But his form in the 2006-07 National Football League (NFL) stands out, as he scored 12 goals to guide JCT to a runners-up finish and was adjudged the NFL Player of the Year.
9. That impressive season saw Chhetri win the AIFF player of the year award in 2007, a year in which he also helped the Indian national team win the Nehru Cup under Bob Houghton. It was his first honour with the national team.
10. By 2008, Chhetri was already being hailed as the next big thing in Indian football and on August 13 that year, he confirmed that status by scoring a hat-trick in the AFC Challenge Cup 2008 final against Tajikistan. The treble came at Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium with the triumph seeing India qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup.
11. His only other international hat-trick came in 2010 against Vietnam in Pune. Statistically his favourite opponent is Maldives, scoring five times against the South Asian neighbours.
12. In 2008, he joined East Bengal for a second spell in Kolkata. He couldn’t win any major trophy with the red-and-gold brigade that season but scored in a friendly against Bayern Munich reserves which boasted future stars like Holger Badstuber and Thomas Muller.
13. In January 2009, Chhetri had a trial at then English Championship outfit Coventry City, but couldn’t seal a permanent move. However later that year he had successfully agreed personal terms on a three-year contract with Queens Park Rangers but the move couldn’t be completed, as he was denied a work permit due to India’s poor FIFA Ranking.
14. Chhetri had later selected that unfortunate QPR failure as the lowest point of his career, but he completed a hat-trick of titles with the Indian national team in 2009 by helping them retain the Nehru Cup.
15. The striker moved to Goa for the first time in 2009, joining Dempo. He set the Panjim-based club on their way to the I-League title with eight goals in 13 appearances.
16. But Chhetri left Dempo midway through the 2009-10 season, as he finally realised his dream of playing abroad by joining USA’s MLS outfit Kansas City Wizards. He became only the third Indian after Mohammed Salem and Bhaichung Bhutia to play professionally for a foreign club.
17. However the American venture didn’t go too well for Chhetri as he hardly got any first team action with the only highlight being a substitute appearance in a friendly against Manchester United. He was soon released by the MLS franchise to join the Indian national team for their 2011 Asian Cup preparations.
18. India bowed out of the 2011 Asian Cup group stage but Chhetri caught the attention of international media and scouts, playing every minute of India’s historic campaign. He got on the score-sheet against Bahrain and South Korea, thus becoming the first Indian after Inder Singh to score in more than one match in the Asian Cup.
19. Australia’s Perth Glory went on record of monitoring his progress during the Asian Cup but in the end Sunil joined Kolkata’s United Sports Club for a short-term deal that would last until the end of the 2010-11 season. He had an excellent goal scoring ratio there too.
20. He returned to Mohun Bagan for a second spell in the summer of 2011 and became the 23rd footballer that year to win the prestigious Arjuna Award.
21. 2011, also proved to be his most prolific calendar year for the Indian national team as he scored 13 in 17 matches and also captained the nation for the first time at the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers in Malaysia.
22. Seven of those 13 goals came in the 2011 SAFF Cup, which India won and Chhetri broke IM Vijayan’s record of scoring six in a single SAFF Cup edition. At the end of 2011, he was adjudged AIFF Player of the Year, only the third player to win the award twice after Bhaichung Bhutia and Vijayan.
23. In 2012, Chhetri became the permanent captain of the Indian national team following the retirement of Climax Lawrence and won his first trophy as skipper – the 2012 Nehru Cup.
24. It was his third Nehru Cup success in as many attempts, but this was by far his best individually as he finished as the top scorer and was also adjudged the player of the tournament.
25. In November 2011, Chhetri and international team-mate Jeje Lalpekhlua had trials at Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers. However it didn’t earn him a contract and he ended the 2011-12 season at Mohun Bagan.
26. In July 2012, Chhetri was given a second chance abroad as he was signed by Sporting Lisbon ‘B’. But just like what happened in the United States, Sunil had a frustrating time in Portugal as he only managed a few substitute appearances over seven months in a team that comprised mainly teenagers.
27. Desperate for regular action, Chhetri was loaned to Churchill Brothers in February 2013 and it turned out to be a successful move for both parties as the Indian captain helped the Goan club win their second I-League title. It was his first top flight crown and he also featured in the AFC Cup for the Red Machines.
28. Sunil joined newly-formed Bengaluru FC in the summer of 2013 and inspired them to the I-League title on their debut campaign. He finished as the joint top scorer in the league with 14 goals.
29. In November 2013, Sunil scored against Nepal in an international friendly in Siliguri to overtake Bhaichung as India’s highest scorer at international level. As per AIFF records, Sunil has scored 44 goals in 75 appearances. He was also adjudged the AIFF player of the year for the third time, with only Vijayan achieving the same in the past.
30. Chhetri is a self-confessed PlayStation and FIFA addict. He is a FC Barcelona fan and likes Bollywood films, with Konkona Sen being his favourite actress. He also owns an Audi.